BRITAIN’S midwives threw a warning shot to the government yesterday over the alarming extent of maternity unit closures.
Shocking figures revealed that more than half of the 121 NHS trusts which responded to a BBC freedom of information request reported that they had been forced to close by staff and bed shortages fuelled by funding cuts.
And 12 per cent had to close their units 10 or more times.
Most of the closures were for a few hours but there were examples of wards closing for more than 48 hours at a time.
Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, which covers Nottingham City Hospital and the Queen’s Medical Centre, had the worst record with 97 closures across 2013.
Royal College of Midwives (RCM) chief executive Cathy Warwick said regular or persistent closures suggested “a serious underlying problem” despite some increases in staff numbers.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg and a sign of serious underlying problems in maternity services. England remains seriously short of midwives and we still need another 4,500 extra midwives in the NHS — now,” she said.
Despite the findings, Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said mothers-to-be were being offered more choice.
He said: “There will always be very limited occasions when a maternity unit cannot safely accept more women into their care and may need to close temporarily.
“We have invested £35 million to improve maternity units across the country and now have over 1,700 more midwives — with 6,000 more in training since 2010.”
But unions warned that other cracks are appearing in the system as excessive work loads continue and pay freezes become more common.
A recent RCM consultation found that 94 per cent of midwives and maternity support workers said they would consider strike action over a 1 per cent pay offer.
Ms Warwick added: “Midwives and other health workers are seeing their pay falling in real terms as their pay stagnates, pension contributions increase and the cost of living rises.”
The RCM is currently deciding on whether to ballots its members on strike action.